The Exception(4)

By: Adriana Locke


“It’s nice to finally meet Kari’s boyfriend.” I pointedly ignored the look Kari gave me and continued watching Max’s reaction.

He seemed entertained by my synopsis of their relationship. “Oh, I am not Kari’s boyfriend.” He glanced at my sister who was giving me a death stare, his grin growing wider. “Isn’t that right?”

Kari kept her eyes on me, refusing to look at Max.

“Oh, okay. So you are just friends then. Got it,” I said.

“Nah, I wouldn’t say we were just friends either. That would imply she liked me.” He strummed his fingertips against the table, a smile creeping slowly across his face. “We fuck.”

“Max!” Kari shrieked, her jaw dropping in disbelief. “Seriously?”

Max chuckled and shook his head, amused by her reaction. “Did I misrepresent something, sweetheart?”

“Well, no, but …” Kari looked between the two of us, her face reddening by the second.

“My point. You just want me around to deliver the goods. We may as well call it like it is, right?”

“Okay,” I said with a small laugh. “I think that was more than I needed to know.”

Max and Kari exchanged a smile as they seemed to come to some sort of nonverbal agreement; I felt like I was intruding on a conversation I couldn’t hear.

“Now that you know about me, I think you should tell me something about you.” Max turned in his chair to face me.

“I have nothing that shocking to share,” I promised, trying to think of a way to change the direction of the conversation. I knew nothing about him. I didn’t know he even existed until five minutes before. I was at a complete disadvantage.

“I didn’t say it had to be shocking,” Max said.

We were interrupted by my cell phone buzzing. I snatched it up quickly, breathing a sigh of relief—until I looked at the screen. My heart tumbled to the floor in a spectacular fashion, its beat increasing rapidly.

Decker’s number was flashing across the front, sending a jolt of anxiety through me with each pulse.

I didn’t want to talk to him. That was the last thing I wanted. But if Decker was in a mood or had been drinking, there was a good chance he would call over and over until I answered or he fell asleep. If I turned it off, Kari would know something was up. I really had no choice, given the situation.

“I need to take this,” I said, standing up. “It was nice to meet you, Max.”

“Who is that?” Kari’s face twisted in suspicion.

I shook my head dismissively. “It’s no one, just a friend from Chicago. You remember Heather? She has my résumé and was planning on sending it around up there. I was expecting her to call.” I pushed in my chair and headed for the door.

She nodded, but I knew she was not buying what I was selling.





JADA

I dashed to the front door, the ringing phone dead weight in my hands. I swung open the glass, walked through, and shut it tightly behind me.

The buzzing stopped and began again immediately.

“Hello?” My blood pounded through my veins as I waited to see which Decker I would be dealing with—the sweet, playful side I had fallen in love with or the hateful, condescending part I loathed.

As I waited for him to speak, I shook my head at my own stupidity. Regardless of his reason for calling, the conversation wouldn’t end well. It never did; that was the one consistency of our relationship.

I filled my lungs with precious air, reminding myself to be strong.

Don’t let him sense any weakness.

“Hey, Jada. How are you?” The Northeastern accent that I originally found so endearing only served to annoy me now. It was a reminder of the nights when he would come home angry, the nights I would pretend to be asleep and prayed that he would just pass out.

“I’m good,” I said, chewing on a fingernail. I walked down the sidewalk, needing to put some distance between myself and the house. I didn’t want to risk Kari hearing this conversation. She had no idea what I really dealt with in my marriage. No one did. It was devastating and embarrassing, for one. For two, my friends would have asked why I put up with it.

Quite frankly, I couldn’t explain things that I didn’t understand.

Decker could go from a decent husband one minute, bringing home takeout so we could watch a movie together, to an irrational lunatic the next, backing me up against the wall while yelling every insult he could think up. It was my own personal hell.

His back-and-forth was dizzying and confusing. I would find the nerve to leave and then he would switch again. He played on my insecurities, manipulating me like the master manipulator he was. He would point out that I would be starting over with virtually nothing. Was I willing to throw away everything we had built together? Didn’t I want to start a family? Didn’t I mean what I said before the officiator?